Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Social Networking: What we learned from Facebook.

The world over we hear about MySpace, Facebook , Orkut and Hyves. These sites have become the leaders in social networking within our electronic worlds, providing opportunities to connect with friends and share stories and photos. With networks drawing together as many as 90 million active users (such as with Facebook), what potential is there for marketing social products and services?

If 4,370,615 monthly active members use the ‘SuperPoke’ application on Facebook to throw a sheep at a long lost friend, how many would use an application to spread the word on an issue like HIV and AIDS?

To satisfy my curiosity concerning the success of these networks I volunteered my services to the AIDSPortal team to help AIDSPortal market itself on Facebook.

When I joined the team, there were already a number of Facebook applications (HIV Events, HIV Jobs, HIV News) as well as an AIDSPortal Page to offer updates on activities. (On the top left corner of this posting is an example of the format of the HIV Jobs application.) These applications are updated by RSS Feeds (see this blog page for more on RSS and how to use it) which ensures that all new information posted on the AIDSPortal website (relevant to the applications) is updated regularly on Facebook. As a result, my focus was to promote the applications within the Facebook community.

I began my journey into Facebook marketing by reading all the data provided by Facebook on viral marketing. Facebook offers the following suggestions:

• Create a human element to your organisation and personalize your business.
• Update the information on your page frequently.
• Strategically act, so to ensure that your data is published on Newsfeeds.

From April until June 2008, I sent out updates to fans and updated the AIDSPortal application page frequently. Additionally, during the first couple of weeks, I joined 191 HIV and AIDS related Facebook groups and personally invited their members to ‘become a fan’ of the AIDSPortal applications. These groups vary in memberships, where the largest, AIDS / HIV Research group, has 25 827 members and the smallest Project Positive have only 8.

I was surprised by the low response. Facebook seemed to be a ready-made vehicle for viral marketing. Are people really more interested in throwing a sheep than in contributing to a social cause?

In analysing the experience, I feel a number of factors may have contributed to the low response:

Placement: The ‘Become a Fan’ link could only be found on the Applications’ About Page and not on the Application page itself. A small but critical error which could have impacted the small growth of our ‘fan base’.

Reaction Time: Postings on Group sites have a delayed reaction time and therefore possible members will only join at a later stage.

Notifications: Facebook members no longer receive notifications of new postings on group sites (possibly due to the growing numbers of complaints of misuse), therefore they will only see the posting if they visit the specific site.

Saturation of applications and groups: Almost daily the numbers of applications and groups increase and this makes it increasingly difficult to choose one from the other. Instead of attracting members saturation, within this platform, discourages membership.

Newsfeeds: Information about AIDSPortal was not shared in Newsfeeds. To be advertised in Newsfeeds, discussion forums on AIDSPortal should be listed as events to which Facebook members are invited.

While my initial foray into Facebook marketing was disappointing, I do recognise that the Applications are still in their early stages and Facebook still has potential to be of use to AIDSPortal as a social networking tool. We are continuing to run and update applications and will keenly investigate our Facebook user numbers every month. We are eager to see where Facebook will lead us on this new and innovative process of social networking – maybe we can even add a Red Ribbon to the Super Poke application.

(To find out more about social networks, please view the following video)